Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tweaking the watchlist

I keep a running list of horror films I'm interested in. Some are already in circulation; others are coming out soonish. I recently realized that intriguing but ostensibly feel-bad titles like "A Dark Song" and "The Devil's Candy" (both on Netflix) might not be what I'm actually into these days.

I think I went through a phase with horror similar to my trajectory with indie and foreign films: At first, if a film was dark thematically, and maybe even hard to watch at times, it struck me as unquestionably deep. How could it not be? Human suffering, man -- that shit is deep. And since I was doing plenty of suffering, due to a lively combination of anxiety, depression, and disordered eating, I found a lot to relate to in movies like Catherine Breillat's devastating "Fat Girl" (2001), whose shocking ending is one of the few vivid memories I have of it.

These days, life is generally much sunnier for me, despite the chronic sleep deprivation that comes with being the parent of a toddler and working two part-time jobs. My wife is a big fan of genre film and TV, be it science fiction, fantasy, or relatively light horror ("Cabin in the Woods," yes, but probably not "We Are What We Are" or "We Are Still Here"). Much of what we watch together is "genre" in one way or another, though we also share a love of quirky and/or dark comedy ("You're the Worst," "Big Mouth," etc.).

In any case, I'm trying to modify my genre watchlist to reflect what I actually want to see. I just started watching "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," intrigued by a local filmmaker acquaintance's praise for it and my appreciation of Martin McDonagh's previous work (chiefly "Six Shooter" and "In Bruges"), and though it isn't genre, it's quirky dark comedy, and it's an award winner -- serious cinema, if you will.

I think something that's been missing in my life, along with time to write for this blog and Spokane Faith & Values, is ambitious, "prestige" film. Before my son's birth in June of 2016, I squeezed in a few last Oscar winners, knowing my days of watching what I wanted when I wanted were numbered. Most notably, I watched and loved "Spotlight," "The Big Short," and "Room."

I remember how wonderful it felt to watch these thoughtful, complex movies, which, despite the difficult themes they highlight, I experienced as life-giving and inspiring. Because that's what outstanding, memorable films have always done for me: They've helped me keep believing in the human race rather than cynically focusing on our worst qualities and retreating into misanthropy.

In my view, a species that can artfully and poignantly reflect on its own weaknesses is one that may still have hope of becoming better over time. Especially in the era of Trump, perhaps humanity's most prominent and least inspiring example, I think I need more high-minded, well-crafted film -- whether it's "genre" or not.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Our robot overlords

Not sufficiently terrified by the now-infamous Boston Dynamics robot dog that can open doors?



In that case, you'll definitely want to check out two short horror films that predict an even gloomier future for us puny humans. It seems we're just lambs to the slaughter once our mechanical, AI-powered Frankenstein's monsters decide they're done putting up with our bullshit and turn on us. But don't take my word for it; see for yourself below!

Blinky™ from Ruairi Robinson on Vimeo.

ABE from Rob McLellan on Vimeo.

Five great arts and culture accounts to follow on Twitter

Mark Harris -- the author of the great nonfiction book "Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood," which analyzes the 1968 best picture Oscar nominees and extrapolates a whole lot about American society and the entertainment industry -- is funny, informative, and at times righteously indignant about the dangerous nonsense going on in our country.

Sample tweet:


Rahul Kohli, who plays the wry and intrepid Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti on "iZombie," is caustically funny at times, but his tweets also reveal great affection for his co-stars on the show. He and I once had a delightful back-and-forth regarding "iZombie" star Rose McIver's Netflix movie "A Christmas Prince," which the internet hungrily and hilariously devoured last month.

Sample tweet:


"The Big Sick" co-writer and star Kumail Nanjiani‏ is a newer follow for me, but I appreciate his charming sense of humor and sincerity, along with a significant dose of humility, which was particularly evident when he and fellow screenwriter (and wife) Emily Gordon were recently nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay.

Sample tweet:



My fellow Oberlin College graduate Emily Nussbaum, who now writes for a little magazine called The New Yorker, also happens to be my favorite TV critic. (She penned one of my favorite TV pieces ever, an aptly cutting assessment of "Dexter.") Nussbaum tweets a lot, and often hilariously, about all things pop culture and some things political.

Sample tweet:



Barry Jenkins won an Oscar last year for his "Moonlight" screenplay, and the film itself won the Academy's best picture trophy. Yet the man's Twitter feed is a model of humility; Jenkins largely uses it to amplify other artists' achievements, with particular emphasis on black filmmakers, writers, musicians, etc. For one of the finest directors and screenwriters working today, he seems remarkably, and believably, like an honorable, modest everyguy. But don't be fooled: His cultural observations are far sharper than the average bear's.

Sample tweet:

Friday, February 2, 2018

Revivals, reunions, and reboots I'd like to see

In honor of the imminent "Murphy Brown" revival (Murphy takes on Trumpism and the "fake news" phenomenon!), as well as another new season of "X-Files," NBC's resuscitation of "Will & Grace," and -- holy cow! -- the upcoming return of "Roseanne," here are a few TV revivals or reunion movies I'd like to see as we enter some kind of golden age of resurrecting old cultural products:
  • "Clueless" reunion movie: Cher, now a lawyer just like her (now-retired) father, is married to her scrumptious stepbrother, Josh, and they have -- of course -- one kid who wants to be a corporate go-getter when she grows up, and one who's into fashion and wants to be the next Michael Kors. Antics ensue when Dionne comes back into their life after a messy divorce from Murray. Also, Tai is cleverly yet sensitively written out of the cast in light of Brittany Murphy's untimely demise.
  • "ALF" revival: ALF returns to Earth from Melmac, and his spaceship crash-lands on the White House. Though the crash is thought by most Americans to have been a terrorist attack, a young aide encounters ALF fleeing his damaged craft and learns the truth. ALF takes up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania and gets into all sorts of amusing trouble, including impersonating a Secret Service agent and, on a dare, stealing Trump's daily cheeseburgers for a solid week. 
  • "The Wonder Years" revival: The new season follows the adventures of Kevin Arnold's grandchildren, contrasting suburban life in the late '60s and early '70s to its equivalent now. Fred Savage, aged only somewhat believably by the show's makeup artists, makes appearances throughout the season as Kevin.
  • "Murder, She Tweeted": In this reboot for the iPhone age, Oscar winner Emma Stone plays Jessica Fletcher, a plucky crime blogger and amateur PI around whom millennials keep ending up dead for some reason. Much seriocomic sleuthing ensues.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Simplicity and ambiguity: The horror short as flash fiction

Back when I was but a wee adolescent aspiring to become a fiction writer, in the summer of 1996, I attended Interlochen Arts Camp for a month of intensive writing instruction. Peter Markus, our quirky and charismatic teacher, introduced us to "flash fiction" -- very, very short stories. Some of these micro-tales were a couple pages long; some consisted of just a few paragraphs. Discovering this precise, economical subgenre inspired us to be wildly imaginative without setting ourselves the daunting goal of cranking out some arbitrary number of words or pages in order to feel like we'd written a "real" story.

I thought of flash fiction when I watched "Curve," a 10-minute horror/suspense short with a premise so simple, some young filmmakers are almost certainly kicking themselves for not coming up with it. (This was the effect flash fiction often had on us young writers.) I don't want to expound at length about a film so simple and effective, but I should also note that it features the kind of ending that drives some cinephiles absolutely bonkers. There's no clear resolution: Not only do we not know what ultimately happened, we don't know how whatever happened happened. But what the filmmaker was going for, I think, was primarily a chilling mood of uncertainty, mystery, and, yes, dread. If that was writer-director-cinematographer Tim Egan's goal, then mission accomplished.


CURVE from Lodestone Films on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"Todo Ya" is the kick in the ass January needed



I was pretty done with the ABBA-ish title track of Arcade Fire's 2017 album "Everything Now"... until I heard Bomba Estéreo's wild, fun, loose, danceable, party-ready, and altogether wonderful remix. It goes right to the top of my "Top songs I've heard in 2018 so far" list (the remix came out last year), which is admittedly still quite short. Other early 2018 standouts include the Decemberists' "Ben Franklin's Song" and the Lana Del Rey/BØRNS collaboration "God Save Our Young Blood."